It was around 11 pm last night that Additional Superintendent of Police, Malegaon, IPS officer Harssh A Poddar received a desperate call for help.
A mob had gathered in Azad Nagar near Ali Akbar hospital in a state of fury, ready to lynch a family of five — two men, two women, and a two-year-old child. The reason? They suspected the family was a group of ‘child lifters’.
This was merely 12 hours after a mob in Dhule, 40 minutes away from Malegaon, lynched five people over child lifting rumours.
This is the story of the timely action and intervention of the entire police force saving five lives last night.
Speaking to The Better India, ASP Harssh Poddar recalls how Malegaon has been facing these kidnapping rumours for the last eight to nine days.
The police have even taken extensive measures like circulating videos against kidnapping rumours, distributing pamphlets, taking public meetings and even registering cases against those caught spreading false rumours under the Indian Penal Code’s section 505 (which may lead to three years of imprisonment for causing public panic).
What happened last night was that a family of five, all daily wage labourers hailing from the district of Parbhani in Central Maharashtra were returning to their district. They decided to halt in Malegaon after running out of money and were begging for alms.
In this process, the IPS officer says, the family had an interaction with a 14-year-old boy.
Poddar told The Better India, that the nature of this interaction is not yet known and is part of the inquiry. But based upon it, certain miscreants in the area concluded that these were kidnappers. Malegaon consists of two halves. While the western side is predominantly Hindus, the eastern side is Muslim. This family of daily wage labourers were Hindus and they were deep in the Muslim area. While the incident doesn’t have a communal angle to it, the group was already perceived as outsiders due to differences in their attire. Without giving it a second thought, the miscreants started hitting the people.
When he received a call for help, he immediately alerted the local police station in-charge to proceed to the spot. In that span of about ten minutes, the mob swelled up to about 1,500 people.
The team which had arrived with only four members requested Poddar for more forces. Without wasting any time, the Addl. SP sent a riot control platoon (a specialised force that deals with law and order disruption) alongside the local DySP. When the forces tried to placate the crowd, they called out to kill the family. The officers immediately moved the family to protect them in two homes. But the crowd kept asking them to release the family so ‘mob justice’ could be delivered.
The IPS officer even requested local religious leaders like the imams to pacify the crowd. Yet, there was no respite. The frenzied crowd refused to listen and pelted stones at the leaders and the police.
It was a police force of 50 against a mob of 1,500 trying to prevent them from swarming the homes in which the family was kept. The call for more forces continued.
And so the IPS officer himself approached the area with four sections of the State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) and another riot control platoon. The police started using controlled force on the crowd and lathi-charged them. This helped them push the frenzied mob into the neighbouring alleys.
“Two boleros were brought and the family was rescued, and sent to the furthest possible police stations in the town. Before I reached the spot, the mob had also overturned one of the police vehicles. But we were grateful that none of the police officials were hurt, and also that we didn’t let the situation reach a point where we would have to fire on the crowd. So no one in the crowd was hurt. One of the men in the family suffered a contusion, but the rest of the members, fortunately, escaped without any grave or serious injuries. The entire operation was three hours long. We were only able to leave the area at about 2:30 am.”
In the light of lynchings happening based on fake news, the IPS officer says, “In all of these instances, people aren’t even stopping to think. They alleged that the family of trying to kidnap the 14-YO boy. They did not for once stop to do a basic check of facts, and nor were they placated by the fact that the police had taken them into custody and would investigate the matter. Many of these rumours are incited by miscreants who just want to indulge in the madness of violence.
“For those thinking that they are faceless when they are part of a mob and they will get away. The law will come back to you. Our cities are under CCTV surveillance. We have digital evidence to accost people who are involved,” he adds.
The police have now registered a case of riots, destruction to public service, as well as attempt to murder. Based on the CCTV recordings, they will be identifying those involved.
The Maharashtra police have set an exceptional example of quick-thinking and immediate rescue in a sensitive case like this. We congratulate IPS officer Harssh A Poddar and his team for their display of valour and courage. Even in the face of a grave threat to their own lives, the uniformed men put the safety of the family of five first and saved lives.